Big changes needed to make NZ smokefree

Radical changes need to be made to make New Zealand smokefree by 2025, a proposal that is backed by senior New Zealand decision-makers, research says.

Researchers from the University of Otago in Wellington anonymously interviewed 19 senior officials from the Ministry of Health and Treasury, public health doctors and senior journalists on how to go about making New Zealand smokefree.

In March, the Government committed to a smokefree New Zealand by 2025, in response to a recommendation from the Maori Affairs select committee inquiry into the tobacco industry.

In order to meet this commitment researchers came up with five "quite radical proposals'' which the senior officials were then asked about, lead researcher Richard Edwards said.

"It's about thinking about how we might get to a tobacco-free future, and the possible mechanisms for that and how they might be perceived and what the responses might be to them,'' he said.

The proposals included establishing an autonomous government agency to regulate the tobacco market, having a not-for-profit agency which bought tobacco from the industry and then sold it on to New Zealand to control the supply and distribution, and an absolute reduction of tobacco in 10-15 years.

Changes happening at the moment, including the Smoke-free Environments (Controls and Enforcement) Amendment Bill which bans displaying and advertising tobacco products and introduces instant fines for retailers caught selling to under-18s, was fine, Professor Edwards said.

"But we're suggesting if you really want to get rid of tobacco completely you probably need to go a bit further and start thinking particularly about the supply side, about addressing the degree to which and how tobacco is supplied.''

The response from those interviewed about each individual proposal was quite mixed, but the idea of having a radical approach was generally supported.

Two suggested proposals - to make it easier to take the tobacco industry to court, and making the tobacco industry responsible for reducing smoking - were not as well supported by those interviewed.

The study also found tobacco was portrayed and viewed as a risky but legal commodity which was acting as a major barrier to more rigorous action.

"Once tobacco is seen for what it truly is, a highly addictive and toxic product which greatly harms thousands of children and adults, then we may get some real action,'' Professor Edwards said.

Co-author, Heather Gifford, said the study showed there was support amongst key policy-makers and journalists for control of tobacco supply as a policy option.

But further research and public debate was needed to identify the best and most practicable approach to achieve a smokefree New Zealand, Dr Gifford said.

The research, "Daring to Dream'', was published in the international journal BMC Public Health and has been given to the Government.


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